Darcey Bussell, Joanna Lumley, Kwame Kwei-Armah and more pick their classical faves

Nancy Durrant
·8-min read
<p>Rose Matafeo, Joanne Lumley, Kwame Kwei-Armah, Darcey Bussell and Janet Street-Porter</p> (ES Composite)

Rose Matafeo, Joanne Lumley, Kwame Kwei-Armah, Darcey Bussell and Janet Street-Porter

(ES Composite)

We’ve said it before, but there’s still nothing like a performance of live music to thrill the nerve endings and pluck at the heart strings. We can’t wait until we can be shushed in a concert hall in person, but until then, there’s a wealth of astonishing live recordings online. This week BBC Radio 3’s In Concert presents Celebrity Choice, a daily series of five concerts curated by people from outside of the classical world, chosen from the BBC Experience Classical digital archive.

Former ballerina and Strictly Come Dancing judge Darcey Bussell; artistic director of the Young Vic Kwame Kwei-Armah; actress and campaigner Joanna Lumley; comedian Rose Matafeo; and broadcaster and writer Janet Street-Porter will introduce their selections in conversation with presenter Sean Rafferty - but they’ve given us a preview of their choices below. Listen and be transported...

Darcey Bussell

Mahler - Adagietto (from Symphony No 5)

When I was quite young I danced to Mahler and it resonated, we rehearsed it over and over and to have that piece of music at a young age that was so meaningful and so deep – suddenly I was like “Oh my God I am so excited to be an artist!” It was a real transition for me actually, I will never forget it. I just felt so honoured to think I could mirror that sort of music in my dancing. It really goes deep to your soul when you are moved by a piece of music like that.

Stravinsky - The Firebird (suite, 1945 version)

Stravinsky... as a dancer it’s incredibly difficult to dance to – when the rhythm is constantly changing it’s so difficult. The Firebird will never date – it’s fascinating – its colour and drama, everything about it. With the music and the steps it’s just crazy, I so admire every dancer that plays that character as you hardly ever touch the ground.

Kwame Kwei-Armah

Leoš Janáček - String Quartet No. 1, The Kreutzer Sonata

It is so youthful – it has so much energy – but also what I love about it is that for many of us (and I include myself) who did not grow up in an environment where one listens to western classical music, invariably our access to it was through films. And what’s really interesting about listening to Janáček is that I always hear a protagonist. In this there’s a solo voice that I follow, and it’s like dialogue; like that solo voice is in dialogue with everybody else and everything else – a tonal dialogue. It is so clear in this piece that it moves beyond narrative, beyond the Tolstoy, and becomes this articulation of pain; it’s nostalgic, but really focused. As a dramatist of course I am going to like it – this is everything that I am trained to like.

Mozart - Serenade No. 10 in B-Flat Major, K. 361 Gran Partita

I am almost embarrassed by it, but I won’t be because I profoundly believe in the power of art to open up new windows and new doors to experiences and energies that you did not know existed. And that for me was when I first came across the play Amadeus. I can remember it was 1986/ 87 and I was asked by the director of Sheffield Crucible to perform the role of the Venticelli in Amadeus. I came across Salieri’s speech where he speaks about a particular work of Mozart’s as if Mozart were touched by God. And that was Serenade No. 10 in B-Flat Major. When I heard that piece of music, I too knew that Mozart was touched by however we want to call the divine – and new doors were open to me. This piece of music introduced me to western classical music, and I am so thankful for it.

Joanna Lumley

Rossini - Overture to William Tell

The 33 rpm LP I had at school was what they now call a “vinyl”, and mine was gorgeous. It had four Rossini Overtures, and I played them all until the record was practically scraped clean. This one I loved because although we didn’t have a TV set, I knew of The Lone Ranger – what is so unexpected is that this fabulous overture starts with a sweet sombre cello at the beginning – and this blissful music goes on for so long, and you see rolling countrysides and softness, and then comes the trumpet call to horse, and the familiar theme begins. Of course I hadn’t seen the opera William Tell; the whole thing was a mystery, except that the music was ravishing and that’s what caught my soul and made Rossini one of my all-time favourites.

Borodin - Polovtsian dances from Prince Igor

I love it for the “boom bang a bang” quality; but also for the fact that it’s got some sensationally beautiful and soppy love music, which of course was stolen from Borodin and put into a musical called KISMET in 1953 – which was a massive hit. They added some beautiful words; ‘Take my hand: I’m a stranger in Paradise’ . I just adore these dances. Because I studied ballet as a child and because I Ioved dancing – and I was good at it – it just seems to make you jump to your feet; there is something infectious about this Russian music that just blows you away. At schools, Year Three would adore it: my age when I first was smitten by Borodin.

Rose Matafeo

Elgar - Cockaigne (in London Town), Op.40

Elgar for me is more of a recent discovery. I love Vaughn Williams and lots of other British composers. With Elgar, I started reading about him, and I really appreciate his background. He was sort of a normal dude – he’d be lovely to meet. I love how he loved his dogs – I really appreciate that. And he seems very sweet. And particularly this piece, being inspired by London, is something I think that sort of spoke to me. I moved to London in 2016 to start doing comedy and I suppose following my dreams, and it was certainly a departure from where I have grown up in Auckland and new Zealand, and it was very exciting. I really do think that this piece reflects the excitement of moving to a big city like London which is swinging in certain years - maybe not this year, but hopefully that will be back soon.

Ravel - Jeux d’eau

I love Ravel. He was almost an intro for me to classical music entirely. Classical music wasn’t in my life as a child or a teenager. It was something I actively sought out – like with most of the obsessions in my life. This CD of Ravel my mother bought – I listened to it over and over again. His music sounded like things in my head and my heart basically – and this piece in particular, if I could point to one Ravel that kind of even speaks to how I feel before going on stage, or before I perform. It’s this sort of bubbling excited feeling that it’s kind of thoughts racing in my head uncontrollably, but into a cohesive piece. You can hear a fountain! And I think that this is the most incredible thing about classical music – is that it just completely paints a picture with music. I love this piece and I love Ravel. There is a calmness in this piece, but also I feel like it never stops moving. It makes me feel like I am on some sort of ride – everything is overlapping, there is always something happening and it makes me think about – particularly – my show. In most of my shows I speak so fast because I am so afraid of silence on stage, I cannot stand silence on stage. I am not the kind of stand up who can sort of say something and really let it sink in. I always have to just follow with another thought. And this piece just reminds me of that – I think I just have to keep things constantly moving when I am performing.

Janet Street-Porter

Handel/Johan Halvorsen: Passacaglia in G minor

I think that Baroque music lends itself to all sorts of interpretations. This piece has inspired lots of composers, and what I love about this version of it is that it’s so romantic, so sexy. I like music that makes you imagine your life as a film and it’s like the soundtrack to your life. This music relates to parts of my life and obviously I have been married four times and I have had quite a chequered romantic life, but I think there is a side to me that you might not see on TV where I am quite loud and abrasive – but I am a deeply romantic person and this music really appeals to me.

Kaija Saariaho: Terra Memoria

Saariaho is a new discovery to me and I have discovered her through the BBC Archive. I like the fact that she is a living contemporary composer, and that her music conjures up all sorts of ideas. She said that this particular piece is inspired by people who have departed and the dreams you have about them, and the fact that their lives are complete, they have gone, but they are still in your life. And I think that’s something I feel strongly about as I have got older. I have lost friends, and I do think about them, and the memories of them are so alive – sometimes you imagine they are still in the room with you, it’s a spooky thing. I think that this piece of music conjures that all up.

Radio 3 in Concert: Celebrity Choice airs at 19:30 every night this week and will be available on BBC Sounds after broadcast